In 2020, the world changed forever thanks to the global pandemic that shuttered borders, businesses, and even our front doors. In fact, the seismic shifts in reality continue today, with COVID-19 still causing loss of life and disability, natural disasters like the wildfires in Lahaina that devastated the people of Maui, wars being waged or an imminent threat, and global economic uncertainty. Overall, the global population continues to suffer massive and unaccepted loss upon loss, leading to another global pandemic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates approximately 3.6 percent of 250 million people of the global population experienced PTSD and the associated symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Still, nothing creates change better than a crisis. Throughout the pandemic and into today, mental health awareness has come out of the shadows, becoming a spotlight issue that millions of people openly discuss and advocate fiercely for equal access to treatment. Holistic health and wellness nurses recognized this opportunity to educate patients on holistic PTSD treatment. Acupressure, an ancient treatment founded in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is a safe, holistic treatment option for those seeking relief from PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms.
What is PTSD, and why are anxiety and depression commonly diagnosed together?
The American Psychiatric Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder as a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed an emotionally or physically harmful or life-threatening traumatic event, series of events, or set of circumstances. When these events occur repetitively over a lifetime or for a prolonged time period, the term complex PTSD or C-PTSD is used. Common symptoms of PTSD fall into these four categories:
- Intrusion: Intrusive thoughts, memories, flashbacks, or dreams of the traumatic event, which can be so vivid the person feels they are experiencing the event in real-time.
- Avoidance: Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event may include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, and situations that may trigger distressing memories.
- Alterations in cognition and mood: Inability to remember important aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts and feelings leading to ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others; distorted thoughts about the cause or consequences of the event leading to wrongly blaming self or others; ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; feeling detached or estranged from others; or being unable to experience positive emotions (a void of happiness or satisfaction). These symptoms are closely related to symptoms of depression.
- Alterations in arousal and reactivity: Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts; behaving recklessly or in a self-destructive way; being overly watchful of one’s surroundings in a suspecting way; being easily startled; or having problems concentrating or sleeping. These symptoms are closely related to symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Even with these brief descriptions of symptoms, one can understand how anyone experiencing PTSD, complex trauma, anxiety, or depression is dealing with life-altering situations that need mental health support. Furthermore, the traditional Western medicine model for treating these symptoms is often ineffective as it is not designed to treat the root cause, which is in the mind.
Eckhardt Tolle said, “One of the main tasks of the mind is to fight or remove the emotional pain, which is one of the reasons for its incessant activity, but all it can ever achieve is to cover it up temporarily. In fact, the harder the mind struggles to get rid of the pain, the greater the pain.” Acupressure is an integrative treatment to address the physical and emotional pain symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
The Science of Acupressure: Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is rooted in ancient philosophies and concepts that have been practiced for thousands of years. In an effort to explain how acupressure works on the body, it is important to understand three fundamental concepts within TCM: Yin and Yang, Qi, and meridians.
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang represent the dual nature of everything in the universe. Yin is associated with darkness, stillness, and cold, while Yang represents light, activity, and heat. Health is achieved when there is a balance between Yin and Yang within the body. An imbalance can lead to illness, and TCM treatments, including acupressure, aim to restore this balance.
Qi (Vital Life Force)
Qi (pronounced “Chi”) is the vital life force or energy that flows through the body along pathways called meridians. It is essential for maintaining physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When Qi is blocked or imbalanced, it can result in various health problems. TCM treatments focus on balancing and harmonizing the flow of Qi to promote health and healing.
Meridians are energy pathways that run throughout the body, connecting various organs and tissues. There are 12 main meridians, each associated with specific organs. Along these meridians are acupoints, which are specific points where Qi can be accessed and manipulated. Stimulating these points through techniques like acupressure helps restore the flow of Qi and balance Yin and Yang.
Acupressure and TCM
Acupressure is a technique that involves applying pressure to specific acupoints on the body. By pressing these points, the flow of Qi within the meridians can be regulated, promoting balance between Yin and Yang. Additionally, it is worth noting that the difference between acupuncture and acupressure is that acupuncture uses hair-thin needles to stimulate a specific acupoint. In contrast, acupressure uses NO needles and is performed using hand and gentle touch. More importantly, both acupressure and acupuncture stimulate acupoints to promote healing.
Acupressure and Western Medicine
In Western medicine, there is a debate on exactly how acupressure works on the body. According to John Hopkins Medicine, acupoints stimulate the central nervous system to release chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. While another study found that acupressure meridians utilize the extracellular matrix and fascia (thin-connective tissue covering organs, blood vessels, bones, nerve, and muscle fibers) to exert their effects. However, one idea Western medicine can agree on is the effects of acupressure therapy.
Acupressure for PTSD, Anxiety, and Depression: Evidence
First, let us explore the scientific evidence for using acupressure for PTSD, anxiety, and depression. In June 2020, the scientific journal Medicine published a research article, Efficacy and safety of acupuncture in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, which concluded that acupuncture can affect the autonomic nervous system (the nervous system that controls our breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure) and the prefrontal (judgment and decision-making) as well as limbic (fear-inducing) brain structures, thus reducing the symptoms of PTSD. Additionally, fatigue and insomnia, often accompanied by depressive symptoms, were significantly reduced by stimulation of several acupoints for 12 minutes three times a week for four weeks. In further evidence, Acupuncture for depression found acupuncture may result in a moderate reduction in the severity of depression compared to treatment as usual or no treatment at all. Moreover, research shows that pressure applied at ST-36 evokes a deactivation in the amygdala and hippocampus, reducing the body’s expression of fear and irritability and easing the mind’s grip on traumatic memories.
Next, the following pictures are examples of three acupoints used frequently in caring for PTSD, anxiety, and depression. If you choose to stimulate these acupoints, please find an intentional time to hold points, connect with a point using a gentle touch, consider holding for a few breaths, and release to the next point as needed. At the end of your self-care, journal anything you need to process what you discover while working with acupoints on your body.
GB-21 is called “Jian Jing,” or shoulder wall stimulation of this acupoint has been shown to reduce the sensation of pain and anxiety. GB21 is beneficial for pain/tension reduction/releasing things physically and emotionally that keeps us tense. It’s helpful to release what no longer serves us through stimulation of the GB21 acupoint.
ST36, or “Zusanli” or Leg Three Mile, is an important acupoint used to reduce activity in the area of the brain responsible for eliciting fear and easing the mind’s grip on traumatic memories. ST36 calms the spirit related to mania-depression, manic singing, raving, abusive talk, anger and fright, tendency to sadness, outrageous laughter, agitation with heat in the body.
LV-14 or “Qi Men” or Cycle Gate acupoint, when stimulated, helps reduce anxiety. LV14 spreads flow in the Liver and regulates qi to invigorate blood and disperse stagnation therefore harmonizing the Liver and Stomach when disturbance, conflict, frustration, resentment or outright anger occurs which may cause upset to the digestive system.
Finally, if you would like personalized acupressure guidance, we have a certified clinical acupressure practitioner at Sage Integrative Wellness; click here for a free consultation.
A Direct consultation is required for any recommendations to be made, and in no way should the information provided in this article be understood to be or construed as recommendations, suggestions, or advice concerning individual health. Information provided in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose, claim, cure, heal, or correct any illness or medical condition. Always consult a licensed healthcare provider when considering a change to your wellness routine. Always consult a licensed healthcare provider when you stop or start taking medication, supplements, herbs, or vitamins.
Acupressure is an effective holistic therapy for supporting symptom management of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Stimulation of the acupoint using the hands and gentle touch can reduce feelings of fear, anger, irritability, fatigue, and insomnia. More importantly, acupressure eases the mind’s grip on traumatic memories, allowing us to be more present daily. Remember, acupoints can be utilized by gentle, intentional touch while mindfully breathing. As always, our certified clinical acupressure practitioner at Sage Integrative Wellness is here to help you harness the healing power of acupressure on your healing journey.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please call or text 988 to be connected to a trained counselor and resources if needed.
Nurse Author Dominique Fontaine, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, HWNC-BC is a double board certified holistic nurse, certified clinical acupressure practitioner, Amen Clinics certified professional brain health coach, holistic medical content writer, and medical content reviewer for Sage Integrative Wellness, LLC, and various national and international wellness companies and media companies such as Healthline and Medical News Today. Dominique offers holistic nurse consulting for businesses, media companies, and organizations in holistic medical content writing and medical content reviewing upon request. She is a passionate neurodiverse nurse advocate striving to transform healthcare and culture through awareness, holistic education and research, and integrative brain health nurse coaching.